Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sorry, We're Closed

Ben Witherington has an appropriate rebuke to the seeker megachurches who have decided to close their doors this year on Christmas Sunday. I really don’t get the megaseeker rationale, however. I thought that Christmas was one of the few days when unbelievers wanted to go to church. Count me confused.

Scot McKnight
, on the other hand, examines the NT evidence and thinks the Christian blogosphere is overreacting on this one.

I think McKnight makes several points worthy of consideration. (I'm a non-sabbatarian, by the way.) But the question for me remains why the megachurches want to cancel the services.

McKnight mentions some possible reasons for the cancelation, like not being able to accomodate that many people and the exhaustion, burn-out factor from hosting that many people. But Willow Creek, in the Chicago Tribune, offers some different reasons. For example, one of the things they mentioned is that the last time they had service on Christmas, only1500 people showed up. Willow Creek isn't saying that they can't accomodate the crowd, but rather that being home on Christmas morning with your family is more honoring to Christ than attending a worship service:

"At first glance it does sound contrarian," said Rev. Gene Appel, senior pastor of Willow Creek. "We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmas--hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day."

I find this a tad confusing coming from a seeker church, for it sounds like the primary audience is Christians who already celebrate Christmas.

Here's another one of their reasons:

The resources that would have funded the church's Sunday service this year will go toward the DVD instead, potentially touching thousands more people than the same message from the stage on Sunday morning, Parkinson said.

"[The Christmas season] is our Super Bowl," she said. "Remembering our mission is to reach people who are far from God, and Christmas tends to be the one time of year when lots of those `unchurched' people show up at Willow; why not give them a gift?"

The argument seems to be something like: (1) Lots of non-Christians show up on Christmas; (2) it's more effective to reach them with a DVD than with a live preaching of the gospel; (3) therefore, it's more strategic to cancel the worship service.

Combining the two quotes makes for an interesting perspective: it's more honoring to Christ for Christians to gather as individual families rather than as a church, and it's a more effective strategy for the gospel to distribute DVDs than to gather for a personal preaching of the gospel.

In sum: I think that McKnight has the a better Scriptural case than Worthington. And I appreciate McKnight's call for a bit more charity and irenicism. But I still think it's legitimate to question the rationale and motivation for this move.